Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mamma's No Recipe Cookin'

This is where it starts. A small, very humble kitchen. But it gets the job done and a lot of great food comes out of it.
 What's for dinner tonight? How many times will you think and hear that question today? If your days are anything like mine, it's probably too many.

I have spent the past twelve years or so working on my cooking skills. Somehow, I have gained a reputation as a "good cook," which I have to admit I am proud of. I especially love hearing about when Jason's coworkers envy the leftovers he brings for lunch. It makes me feel like the wife of the year :)

As I have gained this reputation, some women have commented about how they worry about cooking for me. This always makes me laugh because it is just silliness. First of all, if someone else made me one freezer-burned chicken nugget, I would be thrilled because it would be a break from cooking for me. I love to cook, but it can become monotonous and tiring. Second of all, I am most critical of my own cooking. Food that others cook tastes amazing!

I guess I also think it's silliness because I'm really not all that talented. My gift comes from two things. The first is the wonderful women around me who I have learned from, especially my mother. I definitely had a strong advantage growing up as my mother is very talented and I was able to observe and take in a lot of her techniques. (Yet I still cannot make tuna casserole, beef stroganoff or Swedish meatballs as well as she does. I try. But for some things, you just need your mama's cooking.) There are definitely others in my life who have been inspirational. I will never forget my grandmother Mimi's roast lamb, my Aunt Joanna's fish tacos and homemade pesto, my Aunt Judy's homemade rolls, my grandfather Papa's homemade pies or my dad's ham waffles and his fried eggs.

Courage is the second place where my skill comes from. It's simply the "I  can do that" attitude. It is simply because of this that I can make great curry, phad thai, paneer, homemade cinnamon rolls, fresh pasta, beef wellington, egg rolls, fresh summer rolls, baked alaska, tiramisu and the best damn cannelloni that you will ever eat.  Almost all of these things I learned how to make because I love them. The beef wellington was more like a challenge, but it came out great.

Cooking takes practice. If you won't cook because you say you can't, then you'll never get any better. The more you cook, the better you'll get. For the most part, it really is that simple. When I try to cook new things, I often screw them up. I once made the worst peanut sauce known to man and then there was the time I had curry soup explode all over my kitchen.

Through these years of daily practice, I have acquired one specific skill that I would like to teach you about. I use this skill almost daily and it makes my cooking more enjoyable, it helps my meals to stay fresh and new and it also helps my cooking to go faster. The skill I am talking about is cooking without recipes.

Let me specify that I do not mean baking. For me, baking requires a recipe and exact measurements. But for almost everything else, I wing it. And you can too. Of course, I still look at recipes every week. And if I decide to cook something new for company, then I definitely look up a recipe. Recipes are a necessary part of learning how to cook.
Here is where a lot of the magic happens and where I can get creative.

However, there is also a beauty to cooking without them. Without a recipe, you really get to know your ingredients. You learn what goes well with what. You learn the differences between all of those spices and how to use them. You learn your own preferences and tastes and are able to customize your meals more. You experiment more. Sometimes disaster is the outcome, but many other times it turns out terrific. And the more you cook without recipes, the more often your results will be scrumptious.

In the upcoming weeks, I will be writing about this more. I will talk about how to set up your kitchen, fridge and pantry for no-recipe cooking. I will talk about the ingredients you need on hand for different ethnicities. And I will feature many meals that you can master without a recipe. And phad thai is one of them.


  1. I didn't know your grandmother was named Mimi. My grandmother - Mom's mother- was named Mimi. My grandfather was Bash 9and not as my friends believed because his car was all bashed in).

  2. Hi Liz! I'm always so happy when I know you're reading my blog :) We miss you! We loved the letter you sent us and so did the boys - thank you! Hope it's all nice and ward in Hawaii - we've got snow again up here!


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